Shohei Ohtani (LAA): 2-4, HR, 2 R, RBI.
The most exciting player in baseball smashed yet another record last night. With his fifth-inning blast off of Eduardo Rodriguez, Ohtani broke Hideki Matsui’s record for most home runs by a Japanese-born player in an MLB season. This is an impressive record to hold in and of itself, but it gets even more impressive when you realize that Ohtani broke the record before the All-Star break while pitching every fifth day. Ohtani’s home run was his 32nd of the season and 12th in his last 20 games. He now has four more home runs than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., standing alone on top of the leaderboard as MLB heads towards the All-Star break.
The old-school class of baseball fans has heard enough about launch angle, but Ohtani proves how effective trying to improve your launch angle can be. Ohtani has nearly doubled his average launch angle from last year (9.2°) to this year (17.7°). Naturally, this increase in launch angle has led to Ohtani hitting more fly balls than ever. His fly-ball rate of 35% smashes his previous career-high of 24%. As hard as Ohtani hits the ball, when it goes higher, it will go farther.
Ohtani has been constantly compared to perhaps the greatest player of all time in Babe Ruth, but the truth is that what Ohtani is doing right now is more impressive than what the Babe did during his time. Ruth’s power numbers still stand in a class of their own relative to his contemporaries, but Ohtani separates himself from Ruth on the mound. Contrary to popular belief, Ruth was not a two-way player for most of his career. For most of his time with the Red Sox, Ruth exclusively pinch-hit when he was not pitching. After being traded to the Yankees, Ruth pitched just four times the rest of his career. “It was only in 1918 (71 games in the field and 20 on the mound) and ‘19 (112 games in the field and 17 on the mound), his last two years with Boston, where he really did both.” In those two seasons, Ruth hit 40 home runs in 225 games, Ohtani currently has 32 home runs in 81 games.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Wednesday:
Garrett Cooper (MIA): 3-3, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB.
Cooper reached base in each of his plate appearances last night. He took advantage of the scraps of the Dodgers’ bullpen with two home runs, helping his Marlins win 9-6. Cooper has been scorching hot since returning from the IL on June 25. In nine games since his return, he is batting .483 with four home runs and nine RBI.
Aaron Judge (NYY): 2-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB.
The Yankees offense has erupted in the seven games since Judge called a players-only meeting on June 29. New York is averaging 6.8 runs per game, in no small part thanks to Judge himself. He has been one of the few consistent performers for the Yankees this season and will be starting in the All-Star game. Judge did his damage early last night. He would come around to score after walking in the first inning and then blast his 20th home run of the year in the second.
Juan Soto (WSH): 2-3, HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, 2 BB.
The Nationals won a laugher over the Padres last night, with a final score of 15-5. Washington wasted no time getting started, as Soto’s three-run bomb put Washington up in the first inning. Although Soto has been solid this year, he has come back down to earth from his dominant performance in last year’s shortened season. When comparing Soto’s numbers from last year to this year, you can see a seven percent drop in his barrel rate, leading to fewer hard-hit balls and extra-base hits. Still, Soto’s .320 xBA tells me he does not need to change a thing.
Kevin Kiermaier (TB): 2-3, 2B, HR, R, 5 RBI.
Kiermaier led the Tampa Bay offense to an 8-1 win in game one of its doubleheader against Cleveland. His two-run double in the first gave the Rays a 3-0 lead and a three-run home run in the third made it 6-1. At the age of 31, Kiermaier has become a rotational player on the Tampa Bay roster. Last night was an unusually strong performance from Kiermaier, whose .262 XWOBA ranks at the bottom of the league in the first percentile.
Tim Anderson (CWS): 4-4, 2B, R, RBI, BB.
The 2019 AL batting champion has been tearing it up again for Chicago this season. He is currently rocking a ten-game hit streak and his team sits atop the American League Central by eight games. Anderson plays like a relic from the past days of baseball, where slapping a single to the opposite field would be desirable. He is a ground ball hitter who goes to all fields and currently sits in sixth place in the race for the AL batting title.
Xander Bogaerts (BOS): 3-4, 2 2B, R, RBI.
The Red Sox fell just short of victory in a 5-4 loss to the Angels last night, but Bogaerts did everything he could to give Boston a chance to win. His three-hit performance snapped him out of an 0-8 skid. Bogaerts is hoping to permanently snap out of a slump in which he had just three hits in 21 at-bats over his last five games.
Jared Walsh (LAA): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.
Walsh went deep twice last night, hitting his 21st and 22nd home runs of the season. The first baseman has become one of the best power hitters in the league seemingly out of nowhere, as Walsh now sits 4th in the AL in home runs. He flashed some potential at the end of last season, but I do not think anybody expected him to play Albert Pujols right out of Anaheim.
Ronald Acuna Jr. (ATL): 3-5, HR, 3 R, RBI, BB.
There is no better way for a player to get himself right than to have a big performance in a blowout win. That is exactly what Acuna did for Atlanta last night, picking up three hits in a 14-3 rout of Pittsburgh. His home run was his sixth in his last seventeen games, but his contact numbers were down during that time. Acuna had been batting .196 in the 13 games before last night.
Dansby Swanson (ATL): 3-5, 2B, 2 R, RBI, BB, SB.
It was a three-hit effort for the former number one overall pick last night. Swanson has been struggling of late, batting .167 in the eight games before last night’s. Swanson’s career-high K rate of 28.1% is significantly limiting his upside. Because his power is limited, it is even more vital for him to consistently get the bat on the ball and put it in play, making the K rate that much more important.